I had an experience wearing a headscarf last week that was culturally and politically interesting. More on that in a minute. It made me think of Michelle Obama.
Last year, Mrs. Obama introduced her husband at a campaign event in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Like so many of Mrs. Obama's speeches, this one reflected a jaundiced view of her country. She began by telling the crowd that her husband was "special." Nothing very unusual there. But then she offered a glimpse (she said) into their private discussions prior to his run for the White House: We talked about it and asked people what they were concerned about and it was fear. They were afraid. "It was fear raising its ugly head. Fear in one of the most important decisions we would make. It was fear of everything. Fear that we might lose. Fear that he might get hurt. Fear that this would be ugly. Fear that it would hurt our family. Fear."
Now it isn't crazy for a wife to fear for her husband's safety when he runs for political office. Rumor has it that Alma Powell discouraged Colin Powell from running for president out of similar concerns. But Michelle Obama was not talking just about the crazed gunman who might be lurking in a crowd somewhere.
"But you know the reason I said yes?" she continued. "I am tired of living in a country where every decision we've made over the last 10 years wasn't for something -- but it was because people told us we had to fear something. We had to fear people who look different from us, fear people who believed in things that were different from us. I am so tired of fear and I don't want my girls to live in a country, in a world, based on fear."
So by Michelle Obama's lights, the last decade has featured Americans being manipulated into fearing those are different from us, presumably by cynical politicians. "That's why -- and we have to admit it -- we are in this war. We are in this war because for eight years we were told to be afraid."
Right. There was no unprovoked attack on American civilians killing thousands of innocent men, women, and children. There was just a concerted effort by Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, and Donald Rumsfeld to make us fear people "who believed in things different from us."
Actually, I think Americans -- for good or ill -- have exactly the opposite tendency.